DIY: How To Transform Cheap Old Frames Into Elegant Home Decor

frames_before stack

I still haven’t figured out what to do with the GIANT frame in the back. It is taller than me!

Cheap gold picture frames and outdated artwork are yard sale staples. Don’t pass up a good deal! Look past the cheesy smiling models and frumpy floral prints. These castoffs can be easily transformed into elegant home decor for just a few dollars and a little bit of paint.

I have been collecting frames of all shapes and sizes with an idea for painting and arranging them in a wall vignette. I finally had enough frames piled up in my garage, but I couldn’t decide if they should all be white or a mix of beachy colors.

“Paint them all white,” my Mom said. “They will be perfect for my dining room.”

I gave all of the frames a good scrubbing, threw away the photo inserts and cut off the cardboard backing. frames_cheesyphotoinsertsSome of the frames still had the glass and would have looked very pretty on a family photo wall, but I know that’s not what my mom had in mind. She wanted empty frames to arrange in various ways, which I will show you after a quick painting tutorial.

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How To Dry Brush Picture Frames

Now the frames were ready to dry brush, an easy technique that delivers stunning results. I used a creamy white paint color, a ratty old paintbrush and a paper towel.

The trick to dry brushing is to prevent your paintbrush from getting too wet with the paint. Just dip the tippy-top of your brush into the paint—or skip the paint can and just dip your brush into the lid. You have plenty of paint on the lid to complete this entire project.

Then pounce your brush on the paper towel a few times until you think you hardly have any paint left on it.

frames_drybrushDon’t worry—you can always add more paint later. It is better to build up several thin layers of color than to glop it all on at once.

Next, you lightly brush the paint onto the frame in quick, short strokes. This technique is more like “feather dusting” than traditional painting. You don’t want to completely cover the surface like you would if you were painting a wall. With this technique, you want parts of the gold frame to show for a little sparkle.


Again, it is better to start slow and keep adding more paint until you achieve the coverage you desire.

A ratty old brush works well for this because it gives you a lot of nice texture and you can work the paint down into the cracks and crevices. For my mom’s dining room, I stuck with all white frames. However, if you want to get really fancy, you can layer another color or two on top of your original paint color using the same technique.

After the paint dries, wet distress the frames to reveal even more of the original gold color. To do this, wrap a damp washcloth around your finger and rub a little bit here and there.


If you rub away too much, just add more paint and try again until it looks wonderful to you.

This photo shows the difference wet distressing makes:

frames_comparisonThe flowers on the left just look painted over and boring. The flowers on the right have more dimension to them with a bit of gold peeking through.

Wet distressing creates a nice patina that makes the piece look more interesting, especially on items like old frames that have a lot of raised flowers and other embellishments. The more curly-Q’s a frame has, the better it looks in the end.

I finished this project by sealing each frame with a coat of clear wax and giving them a quick buff with an old t-shirt to make them shine.

Home Decor Ideas

My vision for the frames was to arrange them on the wall in a funky pattern.

As usual, my mom had a better idea!

She has an extensive collection of pretty china, which she accentuated with the frames. She hung mismatched plates on the wall with a frame around each one.


She used one of the larger frames around a display of four sets of cups and saucers, each dangling at different levels for added visual interest.


Some of the frames she just tucked on top of shelves, leaning against the wall.


(Yes, her dining room walls are black! It makes a dramatic backdrop for all of the frou-frou plates and lace she loves so much.)

I especially like this frame. It is an empty frame leaning against a mirror so you can see the reflection of the sugar bowl in it.


There’s something beautiful everywhere you look in my mom’s dining room. Now these cheap old frames are beautiful again too—and they fit right in with the rest of the elegant décor.

~ Courtney

All Things New Again is a family-owned furniture and paint boutique in Leesburg, Virginia, about an hour or so west of Washington, DC. Dry brushing is just one of the techniques we teach—and you practice—at our monthly Learn How to Paint Furniture class. Painted furniture is a popular look right now. It is an easy an inexpensive way to update your home. We’ll teach you how to paint like a pro!


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